Can you believe it? 17 years since their inception, and THE RAMONES haven't changed a bit. Born out of the Punk era, they started off playing as the house band at New York's CBGB club, the starting block for bands like BLONDIE and TALKING HEADS. Lead by the extremely cordial and totally unmistakable six-foot-plus figure of Joey, the band (now with the line-up of Johnny Ramone on guitar, CJ on bass, and Mark Ramone on drums) have bashed, thrashed, and 'hey-hoed' their way around the world, setting light to many a pogoist's candle.
Now, given the fact that they've released their latest live album, Loco Live, a record that boasts no less than a staggering thirty-three tracks, I figured let's get someone on the case to extract a few words of wisdom from the 'Rotting Apple's' favourite sons, totally unaware of the fact that it would be me. We're talking no notice at all that the interview was about to happen. There I was, sitting in the office when the phone rings and I'm told Joey's on the phone NOW!!
It's amazing what you can do when you're stuck in a corner. Well I wasn't so much stuck in this case, as nailed. But it turned out to be a great experience.
Most people take the attitude that because someone plays Rock n' Roll (at a million miles an hour) they don't give a toss about anything else. Sorry to disappoint you, but Joey Ramone is a guy with a conscience and a point of view that could pierce steel.
"I've been working with an organization called Rock The Vote," he says, "which is an anti-censorship group, because America's getting really weird with Bush and the lean to the right, and these right-wing fundamentalists who are trying to take our freedom away from us. It's got to the point where it's shakin' the whole constitutional thing that's the basis of our country."
It seems to be a thing that's happening everywhere. I add.
"Yeah, it's definitely happening everywhere, especially with this 'New World Order' thing. It reminds me a lot of Hitler and Nazi Germany. And everybody's going along with it. It can only end with people standing up and not going along with it basically." His New York drawl just cruises down the line and reclines in my ear.
It's pretty ironic that at a time when the East seems to be opening up, the West is moving in the opposite direction.
"I know, I know, there's definitely a plot," he remarks in a half joking tone.
Turning to the subject of music, Loco Live was actually recorded when they toured Spain last year, a country where THE RAMONES' popularity is as strong as ever.
"They're really a wild bunch over there,"
As for recording this album, they have had the idea for some time but unfortunately their old record company weren't too into the idea...
"Warner Brothers wouldn't let us, but Chrysalis [the new label] are a really great company, really hip, and really open-minded and supportive. And so they were trying to make it possible for us to be able to do it. Actually, there'll be two different records, one for Europe and one for America because of, em, y'know, licensing and things. So there's three songs on the American version that's not on the English and European, so we're going to try and have two different covers. It's a really cool record and it came out great. It's really exciting."
Phone interviews are an alternative to flying someone out to New York in order to meet their subject face-to-face. They also limit you in having things to bounce off visually so you can sound like a right smart arse when describing the surroundings. But, judging by Joey's comfortable tone, I would say that he's almost horizontal. Don't y'just love it?
Well, getting back on the tracks, the fact that the word 'compromise' does not appear in THE RAMONES book of choice words, is no mistake.
"Well, you have an initial vision, and we've stuck to it. Know what I mean? I mean the reason we got into Rock n' Roll in the first place and playing the music that we love to play is because we were excited right from the get-go by the artists of the late fifties and the artists of the sixties, and some early seventies people as well. So, the reason that we wanted to do it is we wanted some music that's fresh and exciting. And it's got the raw guts and emotion and spirit and fun. Like, when we came together, we unconsciously kind of created a whole new sound and style, and in music that really changed everything, so we have our own niche, and we have our own trademark sound, and that's what everybody tries to achieve and few accomplish. I mean everybody wants to be innovative and this and that. These days, I really don't buy that, but there are people that are in it for the love of it, y'know what I mean?"
Sound as a bell, huh? We experience a slight interference from some foreign source trying to gain control of our line, so Joey disappears for a sec to sort it out, then he's back.
Click! This guy's just taken two minutes out to talk to someone else about something entirely different, and he's straight back on the case with our subject. What a dude!
"Hi. Yeah, these days, I mean, it's, like, Rock n' Roll and playing exciting music was kind of an art or whatever you want to call it, but these days it's kinda fashionable to be in a band. Y:know, the credibility of exciting music doesn't exist anymore. It's like there's a handful of bands who really know why they are doin' it, like us and MOTORHEAD and AC/DC. You're playing it from your guts for a crowd that loves what you're doing 'cos you're catering for them and yourself. It's not for the dollar. What's the point? Y'think about what's gone down in the past, like the sixties. There was just a well of great stuff and different styles, like THE BEATLES and THE STONES and the THE WHO and THE STOOGES and the MC5 and everything in between. Everything was real and honest for the most part, and now everything is totally contrived and pretentious."
Joey's proud of THE RAMONES sound, and considers it to have influenced people like THE SEX PISTOLS right through to METALLICA and even JANE'S ADDICTION, a group he holds in particular high regard for what they achieved.
"Of the newer bands, people ask me what I like and I'm a real fan of Perry [Farrell]. I think JANE'S are a great band. I think they're real fresh and inventive. What I really liked about JANE'S ADDICTION was that they combined all different elements into their sound, and it's diverse. I think Perry's a great composer. I think he's a musical genius."
Returning to the original subject of human rights, I chased the point that maybe there would be a possible meeting of the minds between Messers Ramone and Farrell on future political projects, considering the fact that one of the aims of the Lollapalooza tour, as well as presenting an eclectic line-up, was also used to heighten people's awareness yo problems that were basically on their doorstep.
"I could see it, y'know. I'm also a big fan of Jello Biafra [ex-DEAD KENNEDY's], of his spoken word stuff and just the way he sees things. I mean it's just brilliant stuff and he's just so extremely honest, and the stuff he says would make you shit your pants," he laughingly explains. "I saw him at this thing called CMJ's. It's like a college music thing they have in New York, and he was on an anti-censorship panel, in fact it was the Rock The Vote panel, and the stuff he was saying was, y'know, so intense. You just don't hear people saying stuff like that."
Since that event, Joey has kept in touch with Jello and his partner - who runs the record label Alternative Tentacles - and he was planning on doing a big benefit gig last November that would represent three different organizations, from abortion rights to the homeless. This is an idea he's had knocking around for a while. In fact, on the day this interview happened, he was due to do a benefit gig at CBGB's - a place that by now must be akin to returning to the womb for THE RAMONES - for which he had, along with his neighbour, rewritten JOHN LENNON's Give Me Some Truth.
He asks me with almost childlike zeal if I want to hear it. Sure I say, so he proceeds to read it out to me, although I don't think we can publish it due to copyright, etc. But if anyone's interested, I'm sure I could write them down for you. Just drop a line to the office...
Now, this is one of the great events that occurred during our conversation, the second being him playing one of the new tracks that he had recorded the previous night with some friends and was hoping to include on THE RAMONES' next album, so I got to hear it before the band did.
He told me who he had coming down for the benefit at CBGB's later that night.
"I'm having a bunch of people hang out and sing the chorus; people like Judith Malina, who was married to Julian Beck - he was the co-founder of The Living Theatre, which was a kind of radical guerrilla theatre group back in the sixties - the poet Ira Collins, this poet Robin Rothman, Chris Stein, Debbie Harry, and the CYCLE SLUTS FROM HELL. What I want to do is create a gathering of outspoken, unique artists, as well as the band."
Beig in the position that's he's in is more of a privilege to Joey because he can reach a lot fo people, and as he says, "you don't have to be a snob like STING," an opinion tha admittedly makes me laugh.
Do you think he is?
"Yeah," he deadpans. "I think he's a snob, but on the other hand I think he's a real creative guy. Also, he brought the whole attention of the rain forest to the public. So, I give him a lot of credit, y'know what I mean? But there are a lot of artists who have this kinda 'bourgeois' attitude, like they're better than anyone else, which is really fucked up because it's a fucked-up thing to think like that."
His own attitude to himself is that's he's managed to stay earthbound after years of having his ego running wild.
"I know who I am and I feel comfortable, and I just enjoy hanging out, y'know."
Revenge of Riff Raff